Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

The Ripples of Battle

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Review by Jay Winik from the National Review Book Service

“Great battles,” Winston Churchill once remarked, “change the entire course of events, create new standards of values, new moods, in armies and in nations.” Yet while books abound that examine decisive battles in either a strategic or tactical context, rarely are they examined for the cumultative effects — the ripples — that change societies for years, centuries even, well after the day’s killing is over. Now, however, historian and National Review contributor Victor Davis Hanson does just that in Ripples of Battle, an eye-opening look at three great military encounters: Okinawa, Shiloh, and Delium, an obscure battle of the Peloponnesian War.

A master of military detail, Hanson begins by describing the strategies and tactics of each battle and the terrible cost in human life. But these vivid accounts merely set the stage for a wider inquiry into the long-term, often unintended, consequences of war. Among his fascinating insights and arguments:


  • Okinawa: Why the Japanese kamikazes — like their 9/11 suicide-bomber counterparts — only succeeded in heightening America’s resolve to win the war at any cost. Why the failure of suicide tactics was also a vital catalyst in ending Japan’s militarist leadership and setting the country on the path toward democracy
  • Shiloh: How the death of Confederate Commander in Chief Albert Sidney Johnston, long considered a turning point in the Civil War, gave birth to the myth of the Lost Cause — the belief that only a tragic accident of fate destroyed the South’s noble dream. How the stubborn devotion to this reactionary view would slow Southern progress for a century
  • Delium: How this little-remembered battle inspired a tragedy by Euripides, profoundly altered the direction of Western philosophy (Socrates was one of the few Athenians to survive) — and virtually created Western infantry tactics

“Battles really are the wildfires of history,” writes Hanson, “out of which the survivors float like embers and then land to burn far beyond the original conflagration. To teach us those important lessons we must go back through the past to see precisely how such calamities affected now lost worlds — and yet still influence us today. In that regard, I have selected across time and space three less well-known battles of spears, black powder, and modern guns to show how our lives even today have been changed in ways we do not readily appreciate — and by a few hours long ago that few recall.”


“America’s laureate of military history” at the top of his form
“Hanson has earned a well-deserved reputation as one of the most interesting and innovative military historians in the world. In Ripples of Battle, he shows once again why he’s the best. He ranges far and wide, from World War II to the wars of ancient Greece. Along the way he combines a born storyteller’s gift for rip-roaring battle narrative with a scholar’s attention to the deeper meaning of conflict. Once again he manages to take what may seem familiar and to show it in an utterly new light. … This book is not only deeply enlightening but also a sheer pleasure to read. It is, in short, vintage Victor.” — MAX BOOT, author of The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power

“With this usefully idiosyncratic and provocative work, Hanson may succeed the late Stephen Ambrose as America’s laureate of military history. But where Ambrose’s tone is ultimately elegiac, reflecting on the deeds and character of a past ‘greatest generation,’ Hanson’s is sharp edged and confrontational, linking past history and present policy. . . . Hanson’s conclusions show the threads of these battles in the garments of the war on terror.” — Publishers Weekly

“Like any good classicist, Victor Davis Hanson accepts the primacy of military history in human affairs. In Ripples of Battle, a sequel of sorts to his masterful Carnage and Culture, he shows the fascinating repercussions of three lesser-known battles. You cannot fully understand Hiroshima, the bitterness of the Old South, or the Golden Age of Athens without reading this gem of a book.” — ROBERT D. KAPLAN, author of Warrior Politics

“Hanson is one of our leading military historians, and in Ripples of Battle he does not disappoint. A far-reaching story of man, war, and history, it is, by turns, iconoclastic, touching, deeply learned, and endlessly fascinating.” — JAY WINIK, author of April 1865: The Month That Saved America

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About victorhanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture. He recently published an historical novel The End of Sparta (2012), a realistic retelling of Epaminondas invasion and liberation of Spartan-control Messenia. In The Father of Us All (2011), he collected earlier essays on warfare ancient and modern. His upcoming history The Savior Generals(2013) analyzes how five generals in the history of the West changed the course of battles against all odds. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson, who was the fifth successive generation to live in the same house on his family’s farm, was a full-time orchard and vineyard grower from 1980-1984, before joining the nearby CSU Fresno campus in 1984 to initiate a classical languages program. In 1991, he was awarded an American Philological Association Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given yearly to the country’s top undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin. Hanson has been a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California (1992-93), a visiting professor of classics at Stanford University (1991-92), a recipient of the Eric Breindel Award for opinion journalism (2002), an Alexander Onassis Fellow (2001), and was named alumnus of the year of the University of California, Santa Cruz (2002). He was also the visiting Shifrin Professor of Military History at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland (2002-3). He received the Manhattan Institute’s Wriston Lectureship in 2004, and the 2006 Nimitz Lectureship in Military History at UC Berkeley in 2006. Hanson is the author of hundreds of articles, book reviews, scholarly papers, and newspaper editorials on matters ranging from ancient Greek, agrarian and military history to foreign affairs, domestic politics, and contemporary culture. He has written or edited 17 books, including Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece (1983; paperback ed. University of California Press, 1998); The Western Way of War (Alfred Knopf, 1989; 2d paperback ed. University of California Press, 2000); Hoplites: The Ancient Greek Battle Experience (Routledge, 1991; paperback., 1992); The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization(Free Press, 1995; 2nd paperback ed., University of California Press, 2000);Fields without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea (Free Press, 1996; paperback, Touchstone, 1997; The Bay Area Book reviewers Non-fiction winner for 1996); The Land Was Everything: Letters from an American Farmer (Free Press, 2000; a Los Angeles Times Notable book of the year); The Wars of the Ancient Greeks (Cassell, 1999; paperback, 2001); The Soul of Battle (Free Press, 1999, paperback, Anchor/Vintage, 2000); Carnage and Culture (Doubleday, 2001; Anchor/Vintage, 2002; a New York Times bestseller); An Autumn of War (Anchor/Vintage, 2002); Mexifornia: A State of Becoming (Encounter, 2003),Ripples of Battle (Doubleday, 2003), and Between War and Peace (Random House, 2004). A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War, was published by Random House in October 2005. It was named one of the New York Times Notable 100 Books of 2006. Hanson coauthored, with John Heath, Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (Free Press, 1998; paperback, Encounter Press, 2000); with Bruce Thornton and John Heath, Bonfire of the Humanities (ISI Books, 2001); and with Heather MacDonald, and Steven Malanga, The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan Than Today’s (Ivan Dee 2007). He edited a collection of essays on ancient warfare, Makers of Ancient Strategy (Princeton University Press, 2010). Hanson has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, New York Post, National Review, Washington Times, Commentary, The Washington Post, Claremont Review of Books, American Heritage, New Criterion, Policy Review, Wilson Quarterly, Weekly Standard, Daily Telegraph, and has been interviewed often on National Public Radio, PBS Newshour, Fox News, CNN, and C-Span’s Book TV and In-Depth. He serves on the editorial board of the Military History Quarterly, and City Journal. Since 2001, Hanson has written a weekly column for National Review Online, and in 2004, began his weekly syndicated column for Tribune Media Services. In 2006, he also began thrice-weekly blog for Pajamas Media, Works and Days. Hanson was educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz (BA, Classics, 1975, ‘highest honors’ Classics, ‘college honors’, Cowell College), the American School of Classical Studies, Athens (regular member, 1978-79) and received his Ph.D. in Classics from Stanford University in 1980. He divides his time between his forty-acre tree and vine farm near Selma, California, where he was born in 1953, and the Stanford campus.